Netflix has conjured, for we, the quarantined, Tiger King, an audio-visual event that I can only assume is the first installment of an anthology of Those Who Walk Among Us.
There is no voice over to overtly guide the narrative of this tale of sex, lies, and videotape, but the players present do a pretty good job of laying the story bare on their own. It’s fair to say, however, that the producers intend for the audience not only to draw their own conclusions, but to pass stark judgement on those they deem guilty. And there are plenty of indictments that can be handed down.
As a scientist whose body of study has included the absorption of days of documentary footage, I really did my best to suspend my judgments, and instead observe the activities presented as evidence of a culture; as case studies of the individuals who live this life. And, prepared for an ethnography (of possibly dubious origins), I hit play.
Seven hours later, I have some opinions. Strong ones.
I have two dogs, and shared custody of a cat. I understand the love of animals. I’m also from South Carolina, where big cat keeping is more popular than bowling. So are airbrushing and black velvet paintings. It’s a fairly straightforward aesthetic.
It’s also true of South Carolina, and Florida, and Oklahoma – the main settings of this 7 hours’ traffic of our Netflix app – that the heat is intense, and it makes people insane. Dramatic overreactions and long-standing family feuds make up the framework lore of our ancestry. Our lives are plagued, to a soul, by questions that have no definitive answer.
- Does Trudy know where Jed is?
- Did possums chew the wiring in the Corner Store, or did Travis burn it down?
- What happened at the Moonshine Social last April?
- Is Jed in Arkansas, or did he drive his truck into the Gulf of Mexico with Trudy’s wedding dress and half the Corner Store’s inventory of chaw and Boone’s Hill Strawberry Wine in the passenger seat?
- Is Stacey lying about her baby’s father? Is it Travis, or Jake, or did she actually get abducted and impregnated by aliens after the Moonshine Social?
- Why has Trudy’s brother, Steve, gone into business selling cheap wine, chaw, and truck parts?
These mysteries weave the fabric of our culture. So, having risen from this cauldron of instability, I understand how things went so horribly wrong in the big-cat community. I understand why big cat people feel like they have to have the best lemon bars at the church bake sale. And I understand what turns a mutual love of animal conservation into a charisma cult where men acquire multiple spouses and express themselves through the interpretive dance of explosions and firearms.
Nothing portrayed in this series surprised me. You can be horrified without being surprised. These are people largely unfettered by civil constraints, as evidenced by the obvious sexual grooming techniques employed by both Joe Exotic and Doc Antle on their respective compounds, and the impressive resources Carole Baskin is able to employ to further her beliefs and agendas. I cannot picture a threshold for their behaviors, ergo, I cannot picture their limits. I cannot reasonably assume that they have any.
With that in mind – HEAR ME OUT:
I don’t think Don Silver was killed. I think he’s dead now, because he’d be 81 and he partied pretty hard. But from what we’ve been told, he cheated on every woman he every made a promise to, hid money all over the place, owned several small aircraft, and regularly flew without a license for the purposes of trafficking exotic animals.
This was clearly a tip of the iceberg sort of guy.
With that in mind, I wholeheartedly believe he was capable of pulling a Gone Girl on his wives. He hid the bulk of his resources in bolt holes, leaving a generous, but minimal percentage of his estate on paper for the ladies to fight over in “the event of (his) disappearance,” and then flew the uncharted pre-9/11 skies to whatever destination suited him, recovering the bulk of his estate and retiring with whatever child-bride he acquired in Central America. Maybe he even went back to breeding wild cats.
The point is, I guess, that big cat people are obsessive and manic, and I never, ever want to cross them. Ever.